May 12, 2023

Paschal Pastoral Encyclical 2012 (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

A Cross-Resurrection Pascha

Our journey through the sea of Holy and Great Lent with the services of the Church, fasting and intense spiritual life, with the reminder of all the spiritual meanings of each Sunday, led us to Holy Week, where we saw the love of the Bridegroom Christ and we have reached the great feast of the Resurrection of Christ. Our Church with these events colors our life and gives it meaning, but above all it gives us perspective and fills us with the life of Christ. And this happens because they are not just external events, but mystically and through them we meet Christ, the Panagia and His Saints.

These days we talk about Pascha and chant many hymns that refer to this sweet and blessed word. Pascha in the Hebrew language means "passage", and it denotes the passage of the Israelite people from Egypt to the Promised Land, through the crossing of the Red Sea. The passage of the Jews through the Red Sea was a great and wonderful event. Moses struck the Red Sea with his rod, it split in two, a wall of water formed, the wind dried the bottom and a whole population of people passed through it. Subsequently, with the intervention of God through Moses, this passage was closed and the Egyptian army that was persecuting the Israeli people was overwhelmed.

The Jews celebrated this fact and celebrated it brilliantly during their own Pascha (Passover) and thus expressed their gratitude to God for their salvation. In many troparia of the Church there is talk about this topic and about the importance it has for the Christian period. Now for us Christians, Pascha is another passage, it is a passage from the life of sin to the life of rebirth, through the mystery of Holy Baptism, which is the new miraculous red sea, superior to the first. Thus, with ecclesiastical life, the beginning of which is the mystery of Baptism and Chrismation, we also pass from death to life, as we chant: "It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, O people! Pascha! The Lord's Pascha! For Christ our God has brought us from death to life, and from earth unto heaven, as we sing triumphant hymns!"

Just as the Jewish Pascha has a double meaning, i.e. freedom and life for the Jews and death for the Egyptians, so the Christian Pascha is the death of sin, death and the devil and life according to Christ, i.e. it is simultaneously the Cross and the Resurrection. The word Pascha does not only have the element of joy. The Apostle Paul emphasized this concept to the Corinthians: "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7), that is, our Passover, our Passover Lamb is Christ who was sacrificed for us. In this passage, the word Passover is associated with the crucifixion of Christ and, of course, without the Cross, the Resurrection of Christ would not have followed. Thus, we can speak of a Cross-Resurrection Pascha. True joy comes through pain, sadness. Joy that does not go through the cross is just an emotion, and sorrow that does not lead to resurrection is despair.

Some say that Western Christianity is based more on the Cross of Christ, while the Orthodox Church is inspired by the Resurrection of Christ, it is par excellence the Church of the Resurrection. This does not convey the truth, because the Cross is not distinguished from the Resurrection of Christ, nor the Resurrection from the Cross. In the theology and ascetic life of the Orthodox Church, as expressed in Holy Scripture, the patristic tradition and the hymnography of the Church, the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ are united. In the well-known prayer that we say during this period and begins with the words "Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ...", there is the phrase: "through the Cross joy has come to all the world."

Of course, the cross is the struggle that is carried out by us and is inspired by the Grace of God in order to crucify our old self, to transform our passions, to "mortify our earthly members" (Col. 3:5), then comes the spiritual rebirth. Thus, the Orthodox life is cross-resurrectional.

Moreover, the Orthodox experience is cross-resurrectional and fulfills our entire inner existence. We are crucified with Christ and resurrected with Him in a new life. This is our spiritual joy and true cheerfulness, the real Pascha. We do not expect an emotional joy that the senses and material wealth offer, but we expect that joy of Christ that comes from the pain of asceticism. External material goods, social successes do not remain for long, but disappear very quickly and leave man unsatisfied.

That is why we must not let some external events, some external situations take us away from the joy that Christ gives. On the contrary, we must overcome all difficulties with the power of Christ, cross every "red sea" with Christ's intervention. In sickness we must praise God, in sorrow we must thank Him, in difficult situations we must hope, in loneliness we must love. Then the cross turns into resurrection, sadness into joy, the grave becomes a glorified and paschal memorial. Thus, the Pascha we celebrate these days declares, on the one hand, the triumph of the Orthodox life and state, and on the other hand, the defeat of all opposing forces and situations that distress us and oppress us.

With these thoughts I wish you all a good and blessed cross-resurrection Pascha.

With warm resurrection blessings,

The Metropolitan

† HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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